Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Step aside football: Gaming new rage in Brazil favelas

Step aside football: Gaming new rage in Brazil favelas

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Matheus Silva (right) and Yan Martins, of the Free Fire’s P4 team play on their cell phone at the Ceilandia neighbourhood in Brasilia on February 19. AFP

Step aside football: Gaming new rage in Brazil favelas

Ask Brazilian teen Yan Araujo who his idols are, and he doesn’t hesitate. Not Neymar. Not Vinicius Junior. “Nobru and Cerol,” he says – superstars of the booming gamer scene in Brazil’s favelas.

Like his heroes, 15-year-old Araujo is a die-hard player of Free Fire, an online multi-player game designed for cell phones – perfect for Brazil’s poor slums, where expensive gaming consoles are rare but phones are relatively easy to come by.

Football was once the undisputed king of favela kids’ dreams in Brazil, the country that has won the World Cup more times than any other – five.

But growing numbers now aspire to make it as professional gamers, inspired by Nobru, Cerol and other eSports phenoms who have gotten rich and famous playing video games.

With the dexterity of a virtuoso guitarist, Araujo slides his long, thin fingers across his screen in a favela on the outskirts of the capital, Brasilia, playing what he sees as much more than a game.

“I have a dream of making it as a Free Fire player, becoming famous and helping people,” he says, wearing a red tracksuit jacket and swaying his head in time with the game.

Araujo and five teammates from the P Sul favela won the Brasilia Free Fire championships last year, organised by favela community organisation CUFA.

Free Fire is what is known as a “battle royale” game: up to 50 players parachute onto an island, then look for weapons to hunt down and kill each other.

The last one standing wins.

Developed by a Vietnamese company, the game was launched in 2017, and has been a huge hit in Brazil.

Paid to play

“The kids are all crazy about” Free Fire, says Carlos Campos, CUFA coordinator in Brasilia.

Last year’s national championships drew 80,000 players from the favelas.

A full 96 per cent of favela children aged 15 and younger want to grow up to be professional gamers, and 29 per cent call it their biggest dream in life, according to a 2021 survey by the Data Favela Institute.

“A lot of kids have that dream, because they’ve seen it’s a profession, that people from their world are becoming champions, that it can be a way to earn money,” Campos said.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Brazilian youngsters are playing less and less football to play video games, which could ultimately have an impact on the Brazilian elite sport. AFP

The 2021 national championships awarded 100,000 reais ($20,000) to the winning team.

The biggest names in gaming have even become influencers and turned pro, like Bruno “Nobru” Goes, who streams his games online and has 13 million followers on Instagram.

The 21-year-old reportedly earns around $500,000 a month from webcasts, earning him the nickname the “Neymar of Free Fire”.

“He really is basically the Neymar of gaming. He comes from a poor community, he worked hard, spent a lot of long hours playing, and look where he is today,” says Araujo.

Paris Saint-Germain superstar Neymar has even gotten in on the eSports craze himself: in December, the gaming fanatic signed a deal to webcast his own games on Facebook Gaming.

Major Brazilian football clubs including Flamengo and Corinthians have meanwhile launched their own eSports teams.

Convincing Mum

Football coaches scouting talent in the favelas, which have produced stars such as Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior and Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus, say there is less interest in football than there used to be.

“Some players don’t show up to practice because they’re playing Free Fire,” says Joao de Oliveira, coach at Brasilia favela football academy Toque de Bola.

“It’s a bit early to say the majority is choosing Free Fire over football, but gaming is gaining ground by the day.”

Araujo’s teammate Matheus da Silva says he is training to become the next “Bak” – Free Fire star Gabriel Lessa, the seven-time Brazilian champion.

“He’s like [Lionel] Messi – seven Ballons d’Or, seven national championships,” says Da Silva.

The teen’s mother, Claudia Gomes da Silva, says at first she disapproved of him spending so much time playing on the cell phone.

But when his team won the Brasilia championships, she started to change her mind.

“It’s more than a game,” she says.

“He just might become a great player and make a living from it.”


  • Joy as Koh Ker Temple registered by UNESCO

    Cambodia's Koh Ker Temple archaeological site has been officially added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, during the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on September 17. The ancient temple, also known as Lingapura or Chok Gargyar, is located in

  • Famed US collector family return artefacts to Cambodia

    In the latest repatriation of ancient artefacts from the US, a total of 33 pieces of Khmer cultural heritage will soon return home, according to the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. In a September 12 press statement, it said the US Attorney’s Office for the

  • Tina rebuffs ‘false claims’ over falling paddy price

    Agriculture minister Dith Tina has shed light on the trade of paddy rice in Battambang – Cambodia’s leading rice-producing province – in a bid to curb what he dubs a “social media fact distortion campaign” to destabilise the market. While acknowledging that the prices of paddy

  • Cambodia set to celebrate Koh Ker UNESCO listing

    To celebrate the inscription of the Koh Ker archaeological site on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, the Ministry of Cults and Religion has appealed to pagodas and places of worship to celebrate the achievement by ringing bells, shaking rattles and banging gongs on September 20. Venerable

  • Kampot curfew imposed to curb ‘gang’ violence

    Kampot provincial police have announced measures to contain a recent spike in antisocial behaviour by “unruly’ youth. Officials say the province has been plagued by recent violence among so-called “gang members”, who often fight with weapons such as knives and machetes. Several social observers have

  • PM outlines plans to discuss trade, policy during US visit

    Prime Minister Hun Manet is set to meet with senior US officials and business leaders during his upcoming visit to the US for the UN General Assembly (UNGA), scheduled for September 20. While addressing nearly 20,000 workers in Kampong Speu province, Manet said he aims to affirm